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Jewish World Review June 6, 2000 / 3 Sivan, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

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Consumer Reports

NAPSTER exposes artists' hypocrisy -- A COLLEGE DROPOUT has invented a new device that serves as something of a hypocrisy Geiger-counter for the artsy set. It's called Napster.

Of course, its intended function is to allow zillions of teen-agers to download bootlegged music onto their computers. Type in "Livin' La Vida Loca" and seconds later you can find your favorite album somewhere out there and download it to your computer's hard drive in MP3 format.

College campuses across the country are seeing their Internet systems crash because so many kids are downloading huge files. One high school student tells Newsweek, "Napster's the best thing ever created," he says. "I don't have to spend any money."

Now, this is stealing and it's wrong. Especially because I am in the First Amendment business - let alone a conservative - I have to be strongly in favor of intellectual property rights, and I am. If you want to print this column in your newspaper, you have to pay me. If you could reprint it for free, you would essentially be stealing from me. And even if wanted to say otherwise, the suits from my syndicate would come over to my house and beat me about the head and neck with a semi-frozen flounder.

Still, I love Napster because of who it makes angry.

Have you ever noticed that even really rich entertainers like to claim they are nothing but humble artists? They talk about their "craft" and how they would be doing it even if they couldn't get paid for it. They defend crucifixes dipped in urine, Virgin Mary splattered with elephant dung - all on the taxpayers' dime - and tell us how money and politics are lesser considerations to the glories of art.

These same artier-than-thou entertainers mock people who aren't lucky enough to have a glamorous talent as "sell outs" because they make an honest living selling shoes or cars or whatever. They even ridicule the intellectual property rights of others - like evil, "profit hungry," drug companies.

In short, the "art for art's sake" crowd insists it doesn't care about money. So you'd think they'd support fans who want better access to their art.

Well, these entertainers are precisely the people who despise Napster. Why? Well, it seems, for no other reason than it's costing them millions of dollars.

The president of Reprise Records tells Newsweek, "The people who are on the board of directors and in the upper-level management of Napster all belong in prison." Art Alexakis of the band Everclear said recently, "They're going to have to pay royalties. I mean, you can't - it's theft. You can't give away someone's ideas or somebody's product." The heavy metal band Metallica and gangster rapper Dr. Dre are suing Napster for millions, and they are being raked over the coals by their fans in the process.

The hypocrisy here is that Napster is allowing millions more people to enjoy all-important art. Look at it another way. You know the phrase "broke the mold"? It may have come to mean that someone is unique; "When G-d created Mother Theresa , He broke the mold." But, the phrase comes to us from the art world and it has to do with commerce.

For centuries, sculptors have been smashing the molds of their statues so only a set number of castings could be made. Michelangelo, Rodin as well as all the terrible sculptors of today whose name nobody knows - and for good reason - broke their molds. Why? To make their art more expensive. If Rodin churned out 10,000 copies of "The Burghers of Calais" each one would be relatively worthless. However, if he truly had cared about exposing the most people possible to the uplifting power of art, he would have made millions of copies.

By charging $16 for a Metallica CD, the group is depriving a certain number of head-bangers the opportunity to hear its music, solely for profit.

The music industry's response to Napster - like the film industry's response to the VCR - is the same response you would expect from computer, biotech or Pokemon manufacturers. There's nothing wrong with it.

But normal businessmen are honest that they are businessmen. Entertainers want it both ways: They want to say, arrogantly, that art is its own reward, while they get paid millions in the process.

Jonah Goldberg is editor for National Review Online. Comment by clicking here.


04/18/00: Not much difference between TV journalists, TV actors

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